I’ve been considering a Pastry Arts program at a culinary school since The Big Career Change of 2012 (wow, that still feels like yesterday), but it’s never been the right time or the right place. Until now.
Moving to Texas has not been all joy, but it certainly has been blessed with a huge amount of opportunity. Being only an hour(ish) from Austin brought 2 extremely good Culinary Schools – Le Cordon Bleu and Auguste Escoffier – within my reach. But I still wasn’t really sure if this was the direction I needed to take for myself, my business, or my family. However, I was more drawn to culinary school than I have been in a long time, so I decided to go talk to the Admissions people and tour both schools. Just to see. Just to collect some information. Just to be better informed about what they could potentially offer to my life.
On January 5th I had interviews set up with the schools and I was really excited to see the two different facilities, and then spend some time exploring Austin. It was an hour drive to my first appointment at Auguste Escoffier and I was in the Echo – my trusty baby who has no radio – so it was a good time to think about what I was going to ask, to think about how to answer the questions they would ask me, and to pray for guidance. I just really wanted this to be a decision that wasn’t just mine, but was God’s, too. I’d been extremely anxious for months about whether or not I would be able to have kids, how to run a business and a family at the same time, and if this was something I should really be doing at all. At my worst, there were even times that I wondered if I had been given this ambition and drive to be a business owner BECAUSE I was barren and didn’t know it yet.
My prayers in the Echo on my way down to Austin sounded something like this: “Dear God, do you want me to do this? If you don’t, just let me know. If you want me to be an amazing awesome baker and business owner, then I want that. If you want me to stay at home and have 12 children, that’s good, too. If doing both is your plan for me – I am ready. Just help me to be empty today, so that your will can fill me, because whatever I do – it’s really for you, not for me.”
I stayed at the Auguste Escoffier campus for about 2 hours and really had an amazing time there. The people, the curriculum, the kitchens, everything jived with me really well. I think I really made them work, because I promised myself I would ask everything this time around that I never thought of the first time I went to college as an 18 year old! I really grilled them on everything and they had the right answers for me on all of it. I left in really good spirits, but wasn’t completely ready to put my John Hancock to paperwork.
My appointment at Le Cordon Bleu was very different. Everything about Le Cordon Bleu was polished, professional, and very impressive. However, I really couldn’t see myself there. It really wasn’t a case of which program was better, but rather which program was going to fit my life and my plan the best. Le Cordon Bleu would have been much more appealing to me when I was younger – unmarried, no debt, no real idea what exactly I wanted out of my future. Auguste Escoffier fit the Madeline of today!
When I got out of Le Cordon Bleu it was high traffic time so I wandered around downtown, grabbed some food, and just mulled everything over. I just kept that prayer in my heart – Is this what you want for my life? I’ve wandered around, it’s getting cold, I head back to my car and realize it’s still only like 6:30pm and its bumper to bumper on the freeway. I wasn’t sure how to proceed when it occurred to be that there was probably a church nearby – big downtown areas always have a few! I found St. Austin Catholic Church a couple miles away, parked, and hoped the door was open….lo and behold it was.
At first I kind of felt like I was in a movie – heroes and villains alike always seem to be finding their way to a church ‘for the first time in xyz years’ even when it’s ‘not really their thing’ when they have something on their mind, and the church always happens to be open when they arrive regardless of the hour. St. Austin church was beautiful, the door was open, and when I took a seat in the pew, the choir in the loft started up…seriously a movie moment!
I thought maybe I had just lucked out and this was when the choir rehearsed, but after a few more minutes people began to trickle in, a deacon lit candles and incense, and I was handed a program for a special Epiphany Vespers service about to take place. Whoa. This was no coincidence – I had really been led to this service.
I’m not that familiar with Catholic ways yet, but I remembered vaguely that Vespers was mostly a music service because Bach and Mozart wrote a ton of music for them. I also vaguely knew that January 6th was Epiphany. I’d never celebrated it, or even really thought about it in years past – all I knew is that it was about the wise men showing up and offering gifts to Jesus – likely a couple years after his actual birth, and that I had been invited to ‘celebrate’ it by eating some traditional bread at my RCIA sponsor’s house Tuesday night.
I didn’t need any greater understanding than that though to know that this was my opportunity to really pray and meditate seriously on the decision of attending a Pastry Arts program. So I prayed and prayed and prayed. I prayed to God, I prayed to Jesus, I prayed to Mary, and I prayed to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The service lasted over an hour and I was on my knees for most of it. In between prayers I let the inspiring music surround me and calm me and block out the outside world. It was just me, the music, and prayer.
As the service ended I felt a great sense of calmness. I didn’t have a big “this is the answer!” feeling or anything – just a sense of peace and serenity in a place of my heart where for months there had been anxiety, worry, and self-doubt. I felt like the answers were coming, and that when they did I could trust them and I could trust myself. Everything was going to work out exactly right.
Then I walked outside and realized my car had been towed, my phone had 3% battery life, it was 9:30 pm, and I am in an unfamiliar city over an hour from home. Why did you want me to get towed, God, why?! You wanted me to come to this church, to this service – I get that – what the heck is having my car towed supposed to mean in all this!!!??? Then I see a tow truck, but he didn’t have my car – he was there to tow someone else. I went up to the tow guy and asked if he’d towed any red Toyota Echo’s out of this lot in the past hour. He said no, but that he just started his shift and their company was the only one who towed that lot (tiny miracle part 2). THEN he let me borrow his phone to call his company….and they had my car (tiny miracle part 3). THEN he gave me a ride to the lot which was like 20min away by the airport (tiny miracle part 4). THEN he had the same phone charger as me and my phone charged nearly halfway full in that 20min (tiny miracle part 5). He was nice and friendly, gave me directions on how to head home, and said he was really sorry I got towed while going to church – I said it was probably going to be the most expensive church service of my life. It cost me $200 to get my car and it had only been in the tow lot for an hour. 😐 ugh. Once I was in my car though, I realized how amazing it was that getting my baby Echo back had been so simple and easy (albeit expensive), and it was all because that tow guy had been there. If that Vespers service had been 20min shorter, I would’ve missed him. If I had stuck around to thank the musicians, I would have missed him too. I walked out of there in the exact 10min window I needed to meet him and have him rescue me….not-so-tiny Miracle Part 1.
I drove home in a daze and collapsed in bed. I felt like I had lived a week in a 12 hour time slot, and I just didn’t really comprehend what any of it meant yet.
The next morning, January 6th, The Epiphany of our Lord, I woke up late, groggy, and stumbled around for coffee and clothes, then headed to a women’s Catholic church group I attend weekly on-post called Catholic Women of the Chapel, or CWOC. We hadn’t met for a few weeks, and there were only a few of us as people were sick, not back from vacation, or what have you. I was still groggy and spent waaaay too long setting out tablecloths while people talked before the meeting started. I chit-chatted, talked briefly about my day in Austin, and listened to the news of the other women. One woman – Chris – talked about some Epiphany traditions she did with her kids, and how she wished this could be the real day of gift giving since it is when the Magi presented their gifts to the infant Jesus and it’s a wonderful day to reflect on the gifts we give to Jesus as well. Then she paraphrased something she heard and I will never forget her words.
She said the gifts of the 3 kings parallel the gifts that we should give. The wise men gave gold in respect of his authority as King, and we give of our talents and service to each other as God’s children. They gave frankincense because he was to be the high priest of the Church, and we send up our prayers to that high priest. They gave myrrh to honor the sacrifice he would make for us, and we must give sacrifices to be able to follow Him.
And all of a sudden everything from the day before came into sharp focus. The entire day had been about my honoring the Epiphany. I had spent the hours of January 5th intensely focused on how to best share my talents in the way that God wanted, I sent up prayer after prayer to God and Jesus asking for their help and thanking them – during an Epiphany Vespers service even, and my sacrifice – which I did not understand at all in the moment – was the experience and financial loss of having my car towed. Right then and there I knew that God wanted me to go to the Auguste Escoffier Pastry Arts program. He wanted me to get on the path to becoming an amazing pastry chef and business owner, and he would take care of me and my family. And the sacrifice that he required of me was financial. He was teaching me that I can take on this financial burden and he will provide for me and take care of me – exactly like how he took care of me when my car was towed.
If you were there that day in CWOC, you wouldn’t have noticed any of this happening. I didn’t say anything, or start to cry, or walk out of the room. I just sat quietly, having my own little epiphany about the Epiphany.
So, I’m going to culinary school. It’s the right time, the right place, and the right reason.
with love from my kitchen, Madeline Stockman
“The Great Epiphany of 2015” contributed by Madeline Stockman.